Holding portraits of Syrian 6-year-olds, the entire UN organization mobilized Wednesday to make its message clear on the sixth anniversary of Syria’s civil war.
Ahmad, Seedra, Radwan and Khadeeja have never known peace and should not be targets.
The sounds of war, whizzing bullets and double-tap barrel bombs, have surrounded them since their birth six years ago.
“I wanted to become a doctor,” Ahmad, from Idlib, Syria, told UNICEF as he sat in a bombed-out school. “Perhaps I won’t become anything, because our school was attacked.”
Radwan and his family live in the Al-Nour camp for internally displaced persons near Idlib. Recent snow means Radwan, wearing open-toed slippers and armed with a shovel, must clear the entrance of his family’s linen tent.
In Aleppo, Seedra and her younger sister are ready for school, even though the third floor of the building was made unusable by warfare.
Back at the Al-Nour IDP camp, Khadeeja stands shyly in the snow, waiting to fill up a jerry can so the family can have potable water at their tent.
She makes the trip daily.
UNICEF says 2016 was the worst year ever for Syrian children.
At least 652 children were killed; almost half were killed in or near a school.
United Nations takes action
“The statistics are devastating,” said UNICEF’s Jayashri Wyatt to CNN by phone.
She and UNICEF colleague Angus Ingham felt they couldn’t idly stand by.
“We should do something,” Ingham told Wyatt. “Every person has to try, in their own way, with what influence they have, to really take a stand on this.”
So, they set out, wanting to find a hashtag that those within the UN system and nongovernmental organization sector could relate to.
They settled on one conceived by the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders: #NotATarget.
“We felt the message was extremely strong,” she said.
Stephen Cornish, executive director of MSF Canada, said the hashtag was created to build awareness around the targeting — accidental or intentional — of civilian and medical positions.
“The issue is very alive and well,” Cornish said by phone. “It goes beyond Syria. Sadly, Syria is the poster child for it.”
Ingham and Wyatt went to work launching a campaign within UNICEF, which quickly gained traction. Soon, they were working to make it a UN-wide effort with participants around the world.
And it worked. Social media became home to posts of people holding photos of the Syrian 6-year-olds.
“I think it really says something about the people who work in the UN system,” Wyatt said. “They really stand by the values of the UN in doing what they did today.”